Building Bridges to New Engineering Careers
Bill O'Brien loves water. As the owner and Principal Engineer of NextGen Engineering, he specializes in sustainable water resource and civil engineering projects. "Put me in a wadi or a barranca or an arroyo, and I'm happy," he says.
But that's not the only thing he loves about his work. He says that people who care about water also tend to care deeply about their communities. And to him, "people are what count in the engineering world, more than the projects we build."
Training the Next Generation
NextGen Engineering's mission is two-fold: planning and implementing sustainable engineering projects and training the next generation of water resource professionals.
NextGen's training programs include an active internship program and a Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam Preparation class.
Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering exam is the first step in becoming a licensed professional engineer (PE). The 15-week FE Exam Prep course includes lectures, weekly study sessions, and practice exams to prepare participants to take the FE exam.
Everyone is Welcome
In Arizona, FE Exam applicants must have a 4-year engineering degree or 4 years of documented work experience in the field.
While many FE Exam Prep class participants have been UA College of Engineering students or recent graduates, those with non-U.S. engineering degrees or work experience are also welcome in the class.
In fact, one of the reasons Bill created the FE class was to help refugees and immigrants who were engineers in their home countries get re-certified as engineers in the U.S.
When he saw experienced engineering professionals unable to work as engineers after immigrating here, he wanted to help:
"It just breaks my heart sometimes...all the brains of a good engineer and they're pushing carts at Walmart. All that technical knowledge and experience is just being lost."
Bill's answer was to develop the FE Exam Preparation class. The FE Exam Prep class helps the next generation of engineers take an important step towards getting their engineering license, whether they have a U.S. or international engineering degree or experience.
Building Bridges, Not Walls
The seed for Bill's desire to work with refugees was planted while working in the Middle East for over a decade. While he was there, he learned to speak Arabic. He also saw first-hand what life was like for those living in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan.
Because of his language skills and experience living and working in the Middle East, Bill says it has been a natural fit to welcome refugee families to Tucson.
Bill says that when people arrive in a new country there are very few "bridge people" to welcome them and help them navigate an unfamiliar culture. He continues:
"When you're at the end of your life and look back... were you a bridge person or did you build walls? We definitely want to be bridge people. We want to welcome people and help them get started."
Bill and his wife are long-time volunteers in the Tucson refugee-serving community, and he is on the Board of Directors of the Tucson Refugee Ministry. The initial three FE Exam Prep classes were held at the Refugee Resource Center, and were co-written by Randiesia Fletcher, the Co-Founder of the Refugee Resource Center.
The next FE Exam Prep class will run from August 21-December 11 in Tucson, in collaboration with UA Continuing & Professional Education.